Ways to succeed in college

Seth Gustafson graduated from Grinnell College in May of 2014 with a B.A. in Psychology. He played football for the Grinnell College Pioneers and conducted research in health and cognitive psychology. Now, Seth lives in Champaign, IL where he works with adolescents that have mental health issues. When he is not working, Seth spends his time volunteering, running, doing yoga, cooking, and listening to music

Succeeding in a new environment is tough as it is, but going to a liberal arts college requires a particular large amount of maturity and openness. Liberal arts colleges enroll a vast diversity of students, while expecting their students to have an array of interests and hobbies. So there you are, your first day on campus watching jocks, hipsters, burnouts, loners, Goths, international students, and a wide array of others running rampant through your residence hall. This is where your first major decision in college is made: To be or not to be open-minded? It starts with the people you choose to associate with/introduce yourself to, but the choices do not stop there.

This decision to be open-minded is how you will become successful at a Liberal Arts school. It starts with people, but then swiftly continues to what courses to take, what groups to join, and just about every decision that is made. Speaking from experience, I was not open-minded at first and my grades, along with my social life were negatively affected. I took classes I thought would look good on my transcripts instead of classes I wanted to take, hung out with people just like me, and did not join any groups besides being a member of the football team.

Fortunately, after such a rough first semester, I changed my outlook to a much more open, receptive person. I began putting myself out there by taking classes that interested ME, joining social and academic groups that challenged my previous beliefs and values, and volunteering throughout the community. However, evolving into this person was not a cakewalk by any means. This transformation took a leap of faith out of my comfort zone into a number of uncomfortable situations, but the end result was well worth it.

I began broadening my academic horizons in psychology, education, economics, art, and history all within the same semester. I wasn’t drowning in prerequisites that meant nothing to me, or being forced to take all my classes within the science discipline, which was exactly what all my friends were venting to me about. Another issue for my friends was that their courses were already picked for them from the moment they decided their major. Granted, they had a little wiggle room for exploration, but for the most part they were bombarded with the same discipline over and over and over. Basically, their creativity and uniqueness was stripped from them.

With my array of classes, came a diverse group of friends that challenged many of the ideations of my jock-persona. But, I was trying to be open, so I allowed myself to explore these new paths of friendship. I became more of a unique, real individual by painting stage backgrounds one second to lifting weights the next, and ending my day with a group project about gay marriage, free will, or the lack of experiential learning in our public schools. Regardless of what night it was I never knew what to expect and with that sense of excitement and interest came my achievement in academics, athletics, and the social realm I was involved in. I went from a B- average jock to a 3.6 GPA psych major that was involved with research projects, packaging food to poverty-stricken areas, helping pre-school students exercise, creating new courses and social groups for the college, and hanging out with the most interesting people I have ever met.

I realize my story is unique to my situation and background, but keeping an open mind, along with having the desire to try new things will only make your new collegiate life more of a success, especially if you are attending a liberal arts college.

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